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Is there a way out of the Tik Tok storm?

Is there a way out of the Tik Tok storm?

TikTok is a phenomenal Chinese video-sharing app that has recently been at the center of speculation and paranoia. The big question is – are the concerns legit?

The app is owned by Chinese tech giant ByteDance. It was launched in September 2016 and has already crossed the 2 billion downloads mark (see image below), which is no mean feat considering the fact that Facebook had 4.6 billion downloads as of 2019, and it has taken a decade to get there.

TikTok Global Downloads

TikTok Global Downloads

In this article, we piece together why there is all the panic and paranoia around the app. Better still, are we better off exploring more before labeling it as mere old paranoia? Let’s get started.

The wrong side of the law…

While tech companies are no strangers to lawsuits, fines and court appearances (by the way, the big 4 in Tech – Amazon, Apple, Alphabet (Google’s mother company) and Facebook will be virtually appearing before US Congress to talk about their market dominance ), data privacy and security seems to be a recurring theme when these tech giants find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

It is no wonder that data security and privacy is a core issue in the Tik Tok discussion.

TikTok

TikTok

This Reddit Thread has been of significance in the TikTok story.

The bans…

The video-sharing app has been accused of unlawfully obtaining private user data and sending it to its parent company, ByteDance in China. TikTok critics argue that the app acts as a spy for the Chinese government. The US government has remained skeptical about the app and it has been pushing for the app to be banned in the country.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in an interview with FoxNews, said TikTok is a threat to National Security. He alleged that the app is collecting users’ personal data and sending it to the Chinese Communist Party intelligence team. Pompeo said the USA government is investigating the matter for a possible ban. Security agencies in the USA have already banned their employees from using the app.

In fact, the US Congress voted to ban Federal employees from installing and using TikTok on work devices.

However, TikTok spokesperson disputed Pompeo claims saying their data server is located in the USA while the backups are in Singapore, saying that China has no control over the data.

Stating that TikTok has an American CEO, he added that the company’s priority was to promote safety and security among its app users.

The Indian government made good its threat and banned Tik Tok among other Chinese apps for allegedly posing as a “threat to sovereignty and integrity” of her people. This was a huge blow to ByteDance since India was their biggest market.

The app also risks being banned in Pakistan, after The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) issued a final warning to Tik Tok for promoting and encouraging “immoral, obscene and vulgar content”. The regulatory body claims after raising concern on the content shared on the platform, Tik Tok responded with unsatisfactory answers.

PTA decided to block Bigo and warned that they would follow suit with TikTok if they did not come up with controls that prevent the sharing of ‘obscene, vulgar and immoral content.’

Allegations against TikTok…

TikTok has been accused of collecting data from its subscribers’ phones without their consent, with it being able to follow your keystrokes and copy data from the clipboard. The truth is that other apps like LinkedIn and Reddit do it too.

TikTok Allegations

TikTok Allegations

TikTok Allegations

TikTok Allegations

According to research conducted by Reddit, an American web content rating site, Tik Tok has the ability to access your phone hardware, the apps on your phone, users’ location, network-related information, what videos you are watching, IP address, router, and Wi-Fi Access Point Name.

Why TikTok?

A number of mobile apps have flouted the security and privacy rules but never raised eyebrows as it is for the TikTok case. Reddit, LinkedIn, the New York Times, and the BBC News app are among notable apps that have disregarded the privacy policy.

Reddit and LinkedIn have been accused of copying data on the users’ clipboard, one of the major allegations TikTok is facing. This forced the two companies to deactivate the software behind copying subscribers’ clipboard.

LinkedIn’s vice president Erran Berger was forced to reply to consumers’ Tweet over the concerns of the app copying the clipboard.

LinkedIn Keystroke and Clipboard Monitoring

LinkedIn Keystroke and Clipboard Monitoring

“Appreciate you raising this. We’ve traced this to a code path that only does an equality check between the clipboard contents and the currently typed content in a text box. We don’t store or transmit the clipboard contents.” Tweeted Berger.

The reason as to why many countries especially superpowers have raised their concern about Tik Tok is that China National Security Law requires any organization or citizen to “support, assist and co-operate with the state intelligence work” in accordance with the law.

TikTok’s own privacy policy also states that the app could share your information with a parent, subsidiary, or other affiliates of our corporate group.

ByteDance officials have insisted that they will not give in to China’s demands to access the information, should this be the case.

In Germany, TikTok is accused of intentionally hiding videos posted by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) community from the news feed. TikTok management in its defense said it was forced to hide the videos as an anti-bullying measure to protect the LGBTQ community.

The video-sharing app was put on the spot again when it pulled down a video of an American teenager who was creating awareness about China abusing and violating human rights against Uyghur Muslims. TikTok said the video was pulled down because of featuring former Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. They also apologized for censoring #BlackLivesMatter posts.

Should you use TikTok?

There are those who posit that the allegations against TikTok are as a result of supremacy battles between the United States and China. The bone of contention between pro and anti-TikTok is how their data is being backed up in the USA and employing US citizens to hold top management.

However, there is evidence of where the video-sharing app has breached the privacy policy. Forbes Magazine reported that when Apple introduced iOS 14’s security and privacy change, it was found out that TikTok was still copying users’ clipboards months after it declared it will stop the behavior. This is a clear indication that Tik Tok infringes its customers’ privacy though the main reason behind this is still unclear.

Of concern is the Machine Learning/AI algorithm that ByteDance has used in apps like TouTiao to personalize user content. If the same is applied to TikTok, then the algorithm could use the already collected data for any reason.

There are millions of TikTok users who care less about the implication of ByteDance infringing their privacy. They are out to make fun and explore the app.

Using TikTok is your personal choice. If you are a user who is conscious about data privacy, then you might be hesitant to use it. If you are not keen about your private information, then you are good to go.

Better still, you might want to give them a chance, as they might be getting new investors soon.

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About the Author
Abby Nduta
I have a way with words. Linguist turned into a digital marketer, and on her journey to becoming a backend developer.